A man spends untold thousands setting up a dingy lair of LCD touchscreens to track down the EMS worker who failed to save his wife in 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, a dopey direct-to-video action flick that exists because of its star. Now WWE’s second action franchise, behind the video spin-off The Marine, the follow-up drop mega-star John Cena for a less imposing, deadened Randy Orton whose lack of screen presence crushes the troubled narrative.
12 Rounds was theatrical, a kooky and fun spin on the Die Hard formula. Cena winked at the camera as he rode a trolley through San Francisco to save his kidnapped wife, the male power fantasy in a joyfully stupid frame. For this sequel, the tone has dramatically shifted. Reloaded is offensively brazen and needlessly void of light. Nighttime photography adds a seedy, dirty thread that expects to garner legitimacy for the asinine scenario. Instead, the effect is counter-intuitive.
Reloaded brandishes baseless nudity, hardened violence, and all-around brutish attitudes that play no heed to the lunacy of the storyline. Orton’s Nick Malloy is ill-defined as an experienced EMS driver, yet carries the weapon disarming skills of a Navy Seal, and pumps two cops full of kicks. Who knows where an emergency responder picked up ample fighting skills. Orton, in effect, is playing his WWE persona dressed in a uniform. Seems backward.
Our villain for this evening’s entertainment is a sniveling screamer who says the F-word a lot, a weakly resolved mourner who implausibly installed bombs, set up staging grounds, planted plotting devices across the city, and hacked into every security camera, all without being caught. He threatens Orton with death if he doesn’t listen, planning escape routes and even for the unexpected. Someone this smart should have been working for the authorities, but alas, his background is never illuminated.
Jumpy scripting finds a need to flop around in flashback, as if the plotting is so in-depth the audience would be confused as the events unfold. The only confusion is the film’s logic base, or rather lack of one. Jittery camerawork and cinematography in love with soft focus make Reloaded appear like a late-’90s music video, struggling for coherence or style. It is ugly to look at, and dull to watch.
Captured with the Red Epic, this digital presentation flounders, wrought with inconsistency that can be sourced to photography and low quality video. Compression within this AVC encode from Fox is sufficient. Most of the egregious artifacts – and there are many – lie in the source. The explosion of a rescue squad early is covered in compression equivalent to the earliest DVDs.
Bathed in two color palettes, one golden with affection for yellow and another drowning in blues, neither becomes helpful to the image’s vividness. Saturation is downplayed or hidden by shadows, unable to escape the rush of digital color grading.
Sharpness dwindles shot from shot, taking fidelity and fine detail with it. Elements such as facial definition disappear into the ethereal plane, only to resurface 20-minutes later. Plasticine faces are common, ruptured by both photography and the bothersome source compression.
As a final shot, black levels never catapult into their fullest capacity, reaching a general gray that is deep enough to hamper shadow detail without offering depth. The flipside is a contrast that becomes explosive with even the soft lighting of a phone booth, blowing out portions of the screen. Smaller light sources lead to banding.
Like video, Reloaded’s DTS-HD mix is everywhere, from throbbing LFE during the opening credits, to a booming explosion, then falling apart during another car explosion during the finale. Based strictly on LFE, you would likely have a difficult time discerning that a vehicle went up flames at the end.
The surround mix plays with the stereos, spreading dialogue into specific positions, even carrying a short conversation split from the center. Action is dry, leaving surrounds on mute. Heaviest rear speaker usage comes within clubs during flashbacks, the music and audience integration effective. The rest of the sound design is flaccid, cheap to match production values all around.
Director Roel Reine and editor Radu Ion dissect the film in their commentary, a hair more honest than the feaurette, Randy Orton: Reloaded which exists purely to sell the WWE ring man as a film star. Action of 12 Rounds 2 travels into choreography for eight minutes, filled mostly with movie footage. A piece on locations, about seven minutes, rounds off the disc.
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